On Saturday night, WotN and I took ourselves off to see Django Unchained. I wanted to see it partly because my interest had been aroused by what I'd read, and partly because friends had recommended it - though I should add, in view of what follows, that I went on my own responsibility and no one else's.
Well, I nearly liked it, but I ended up hating it. I nearly liked it because there's a lot that's good about it: the style of the opening recalls a hundred and more Westerns; some of the main performances - by Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson - are first-rate; there is good crisp, and often funny, dialogue; there's a most enjoyable scene in which the masks of the Ku Klux Klan are brilliantly satirized; and the film delivers a certain kind of catharsis as Django and Dr King Schultz (the Foxx and Waltz characters) send various evildoers implicated in the horrors of slavery into well-deserved oblivion.
But by the end I couldn't wait to get out of the cinema. At 165 minutes the movie is too long, but that's not so uncommon these days. I don't even know if I can make a persuasive case against it. All I can do is describe my own reactions. It was the relentlessness and the excess of the violence that did for me. I don't have an especially low threshold in this matter, so what was it that got to me? It was something about the particular combination in that violence. Most of what was meted out by Django and Dr King Schultz - the dispatching of the bad guys, so to speak - was cartoon violence of the 'Zap' and 'Kpow' variety and for that reason, though very bloody, not difficult to sit through. But the violence against the slaves wasn't cartoon at all and it was sickening: a man being torn apart by dogs (albeit mostly off camera), repeated whippings, two men forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of onlookers, until one of them is thrown a large hammer with which to 'finish it' - something you don't see but you do hear - and more.
Defenders of Tarantino and the movie might well say here that this violence has to be sickening, rather than of the Zap-and-Kpow type, because he needs to show what a terrible thing slavery was. Maybe. But I was put off by it nonetheless. I don't know that you have to show such things lingeringly to make the necessary points. I am reminded of comments by Claude Lanzmann regarding Shoah and why he chose to let the witnesses speak rather than trying to 'reproduce' the horrors that occurred. And I also wonder about the combination to which I've referred: cartoon violence alongside the representation of violence that was anything but. Is this supposed to be an entertainment or what? On one level, that's manifestly what it is. Not that you cannot educate people in entertaining them. You certainly can. But for me the way the two things - cruelty and fun - are put together in Django left a bad taste. That's the best I can explain it.